Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Kids Are All Wrong: or, In Space No One Can Hear You Complain

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 1, 2010

I’m starting to worry about the next generation of film geeks. Specifically, I’m wondering whether or not there’s even going to be one.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of my 13-year-old nephew, who is the same age and is a reasonably intelligent kid. This is a kid who plays guitar and makes YouTube videos, so he’s not a completely unimaginative person. Apparently he saw a list of the “50 Scariest Movies” online and has decided to watch them all, but is just getting started. He was impressed by The Ring and 28 Days Later, which at least shows a modicum of taste. However, he was disappointed by Alien, which he found “boring” and “not scary at all”. Yikes.

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Needless to say, I was pretty flabbergasted by this statement. I’ve always thought of Ridley Scott’s film as being one of those movies you just can’t deny or argue about. It just works. While I was too young to see it during its theatrical run (at least my parents wouldn’t have let me at 10 years old), I still vividly remember watching it on the ABC Sunday Night Movie as a kid and being scared as hell by it. And that was the edited for TV version! Having seen it many times since, I can honestly say that Alien has never failed to work on my nerves like a fucking jackhammer. It’s considered a classic for a reason – because it’s brilliant filmmaking and expertly suspenseful and frightening.

Now, obviously I don’t expect a 13-year-old to know anything about film or to have refined tastes. But it blows my mind to think that someone could watch Alien for the first time (especially at that age) and not find it even the least bit scary. I’m not sure how that’s even possible. The chest-bursting scene alone should go down as one of the all-time great scary scenes! How can someone not watch that and be affected by it? Good gravy, man! But for me, the thing that makes Alien so frightening (besides the awesome alien creation by H.R. Giger of course) is the cold, oppressive atmosphere of deep space and the labyrinthine corridors of the Nostromo. Just being stuck in that environment for two hours is disturbing enough even without a murderous alien creature running around. Maybe that’s not something that translates to today’s teenager who is raised on a steady diet of zombie-killing video games.

I really didn’t know what to say to this kid – how do you argue the merits of a bona fide classic to someone who doesn’t get it? It’s Alien, what’s not to understand? I just kind of shrugged it off and said, “well, depends on what you find scary, I guess.” What else can you say? It’s like trying to explain to a child why Citizen Kane or The Godfather or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Psycho are among the all-time great films. If you have to ask why, you’re not going to get it. And I don’t even know this kid that well, so I wasn’t about to get into a whole lecture about it with him. I guess I should have suggested that he check out Cameron’s Aliens if he wanted something more action-packed. As much as I love Aliens on its own terms (and I know some people prefer it), it’s Scott’s original that will always be the Alien movie for me.

But the conversation definitely got me thinking about the new generation of kids, and I’m really wondering if the “film geek” label will eventually become a thing of the past. Kids in general don’t seem to really care about movies that much. When I was that age, movies were the big thing, at least for me and most of the kids I knew. Going to see a movie in a theater was an event, not just something to do. Of course, back then the only real competition was Atari and goofy-ass TV shows like Knight Rider. It’s no wonder we got so wrapped up in the works of Spielberg and Lucas. Now, kids have Facebook and Halo and whatever’s on their iPods all competing for their attention. I’d say my nephew is a little more into movies than most, mainly due to my influence I’m sure. We have lots of conversations about various movie-related subjects (last night we talked about the ratings system after seeing Dinner for Schmucks together, which is hilarious by the way), and he really seems interested in the way things were in “the old days”, back when we watched movies on VHS tapes and rode to school on dinosaurs.

Even he has his limits though. For several weeks now I’ve been trying to get him to watch Jaws. Like Alien, it’s one of the all-time great horror films, and he’s at the perfect age to see it for the first time.

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He expressed some interest in seeing it (Spielberg being one of the few directors he knows by name), so I let him borrow my DVD copy. And for weeks it’s been sitting there next to his XBox, just waiting to be watched, while he spends hours and hours playing Gears of War 2. One would think that a 13-year-old would be psyched to watch a movie about a man-eating shark. It’s not like I’m trying to get him to watch Solaris or Battleship Potemkin. It’s fucking Jaws, the original blockbuster Hollywood movie! Hated by film snobs from coast to coast. Do I really have to tie the kid to a chair to get him to watch this? Honestly, if you can’t get a kid to watch Jaws, then maybe there’s no hope for film geekdom.

Maybe I was the exception to the rule here, but when I was a kid, I was fascinated by old movies. Whenever one was on TV, I’d make a point of watching it, whether it was The Three Musketeers or Creature from the Black Lagoon. I was well versed in the films of Hitchcock before I graduated high school. And this was at a time when classic films weren’t readily available (there certainly wasn’t an outlet like Turner Classic Movies then), so you basically had to catch them whenever you could. And it was pure curiosity on my part – it wasn’t like anyone was encouraging me to watch this stuff. There was no organized film-geek culture where I lived, and there certainly was no Internet to recommend films to me. As much as I grew up watching the films of Spielberg and Lucas, I also grew up watching Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Bogart, Cagney, both Hepburns, Newman and Redford, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Clint Eastwood, even freakin’ Shirley Temple. I knew these names because they were movie stars, and it didn’t matter how old they were or how long ago their last hit was. And I wouldn’t have called myself any kind of expert on anything back then – I was just a kid who loved to watch movies, like lots of other kids.

These days, kids don’t seem much interested in anything that came before they were born. With rare exceptions like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and that’s mostly because those franchises have come back into public view with new entries. Kids today don’t know most of those names, and if they do it’s only because they heard their parents mention them. Or maybe their grandparents. My nephew doesn’t even know who Chevy Chase is, much less anyone who came before him. He only knows Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, and as the voice of Garfield for god’s sake. That’s just sad. He knows Dan Aykroyd as “that other guy from Ghostbusters”. He’s never seen a good Eddie Murphy movie. He’s only seen one Mel Brooks movie – Spaceballs. He’s never seen a James Bond movie or a Peter Sellers Pink Panther or a Dirty Harry movie. Forget about Hitchcock or anything from the pre-70’s era. He barely knows the 80’s, for crying out loud! Foreign and indie films are completely off his radar. I would love to help the kid out, give him a little casual education, but I can’t even get him to watch Jaws! Do you really think he’s going to sit still for Rear Window or North by Northwest?

I know, he’s 13 years old, there’s still plenty of time. But I have to wonder if any kids these days can really be called “budding film geeks”. When kids are finding Alien boring, what hope is there for them to discover Kurosawa? Or even Woody Allen? I don’t see it happening. I know, I know – these are different times and kids have their own movies and their own movie stars. I get that. But it feels like something’s being lost here. I know not everyone’s meant to be a film obsessive like me, people do have other interests. But the whole concept of being a “film geek” seems to be aging, and I don’t see today’s kids picking up the slack for the future. They’re far too distracted by other forms of entertainment to really be interested in exploring film in any depth. And it seems like the only way to interest them in new movies is to completely throw out any sense of subtlety, atmosphere or originality (in other words, the things that make films interesting), and just feed them lowest-common-denominator junk like Transformers that they can absorb and discard. Sad really.

All of which makes me wonder about Scott’s forthcoming Alien prequel. Coming 30-plus years after the original, what will it be like? Will he rely on atmosphere and craftsmanship like he did in 1979, or will he try to appeal to the kids who find the original “boring” and “not scary”? Will anyone under 40 even care by the time it comes out? Will it enhance the original classic, or just ruin it? I’m pretty curious about the upcoming prequel to The Thing as well for the same reasons. Do they really expect to get a young audience with prequels to films that came out before they were even born? I have to wonder. Wouldn’t Hollywood be better off coming up with new ideas and new franchises than constantly mining the past for inspiration? I know these titles still have some cachet, but eventually the original audience is going to die out (sorry, but it’s inevitable) and the kids aren’t going to care about this old stuff. And they won’t have anything to call their own, except maybe Twilight. Now that’s a scary thought.

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